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    Recipe for success

    Step one: Bring in a celebrity chef. A Riverview woman wins that opportunity and hosts dinner for eight guests.

    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 20, 2002

    RIVERVIEW -- He walked into her country kitchen appearing a little shorter than he does on television. His brown hair was moussed. His jeans were faded at the thighs. He wore a tight T-shirt and black loafers.

    [Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
    Tyler Florence checks an ear of corn he was preparing with Linda Durfee in her kitchen Friday.
    Then Tyler Florence, celebrity chef, whipped out his eight-piece vanadium steel knife set. He was ready to cook.

    It wasn't a moment too soon for Linda Durfee, the wife of a retired Army colonel who had been waiting anxiously for Florence to arrive. She was having dinner for eight Friday night.

    Florence, the host of Food Network's Food 911, was to prepare the food.

    "He's my favorite," said Durfee, 56, who won Florence's services in a contest sponsored by Publix Supermarkets.

    On his show, which airs weeknights at 7:30, Florence travels the country curing cooking disasters. He made floppy biscuits rise in St. Petersburg. He turned ordinary lasagna in Orlando into something divine.

    Friday night, Florence was two hours late in arriving. At one point, Durfee joked about forgetting him and ordering Hungry Howie's Pizza & Subs.

    Then three cars drove up to her home in southern Hillsborough County. Florence walked in, took off his sunglasses and made a quick call on his cell phone. Durfee apologized for her kitchen.

    "It's perfect, it's perfect," said Florence, stopping at the stainless steel refrigerator. "Gorgeous fridge."

    Meanwhile, his two assistants toted in the goods, which filled three boxes and two crates. There were kitchen towels, kosher salt, a whisk, three metal mixing bowls and Hefty cookie sheets.

    They brought in a blender, a 32-quart boiling pot, 10 live lobsters in a cooler and a thyme plant, which Florence sniffed before putting on a ledge above the sink.

    "Tonight, we are going to have four courses," Florence explained.

    First a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad with Green Goddess dressing. "It's a super sexy ranch dressing," he explained.

    Then risotto with sweet peas, mint and seared scallops. After that, he said, would come the lobster boil, with sausage, corn and potatoes. The dessert would be creme brulee.

    Durfee's eyes opened wide. She had told the contest sponsors she wanted to learn how to make creme brulee.

    Another thing she requested: No liver.

    Like a whirlwind, Florence moved through the kitchen. He revealed secrets to Durfee. How to crack eggs with one hand. "I've never done it, but I've watched you," she said.

    He introduced her to anchovies.

    "Think of them as a seasoning vehicle," he said.

    He dropped three into the blender for the Green Goddess dressing and she tasted the mixture, which is actually green.

    "This is good," she said before dipping the spoon again.

    She had hand towels stuck in each pocket of her khaki shorts to wipe her hands.

    Soon, the kitchen was hot and smelling like roasted corn. And everything was under control.

    "You come organized and dinner for eight is a snap," Florence said.

    Assistants also help.

    It was David Hillard, his assistant, who chopped the garlic and Italian parsley, washed the sea scallops and put the cling wrap over the extra anchovies. Another assistant washed dishes.

    Today, Florence will be at the Citrus Park Publix for two cooking demonstrations. Next week, he's off to London for his new cooking show, The Ultimate.

    Durfee said she loved having him in her kitchen.

    "You watch people on TV and you feel like you know them," she said.

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